restricted access Trans-Americanity: Subaltern Modernities, Global Coloniality, and the Cultures of Greater Mexico by José David Saldívar (review)
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Reviewed by
José David Saldívar. Trans-Americanity: Subaltern Modernities, Global Coloniality, and the Cultures of Greater Mexico. Durham: Duke UP, 2012. xxxii + 265 pp.

Like the title character of Junot Díaz’s celebrated novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, José David Saldívar’s imperative in Trans-Americanity is to “imagine alternatives” (211). The author applies transnational, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary approaches to his study of writers throughout the United States, Greater Mexico, and South Asia in order to advance the visionary remappings of Chicana/o, Latina/o, and American Studies he produces in The Dialects of Our America (1991) and Border Matters (1997). Using Aníbal Quijano’s and Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis as a framework for his own theory of trans-Americanity, Saldívar explores the powerful and pervasive ideology that “established a series of institutions and world views” designed to create and sustain a world-system (xii). By situating his study “outside the border-patrolled academic area studies of the Global North,” the author participates in “a dramatic shift in trans-American sociological, historical, and cultural acting and thinking from the nation-state level to a thinking and acting at the planetary and world systems level” (xvi). Throughout his work, Saldívar invokes a wide range of theoretical voices and concepts—from Enrique Dussel’s, Walter Mignolo’s, and Gloria Anzaldúa’s explorations of coded language, to the subaltern articulations traced by Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, to Paul de Man’s and Judith Butler’s expression of new rhetorical forms—all seamlessly integrated into a reflexive argument for the “stretching [of] mainline and (traditional) comparative structures of ‘American Studies’” (xxvii).

In chapters 1 and 2, Saldívar constructs cross-genealogical treatments of US Latino/a, South Asian, African American, and pan-Africanist texts that reveal an “antagonistic relationship to the hegemonic culture, which seeks to marginalize and interpellate them as minor” (2). Chapter 1 traces the “subalternized designs” in Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), Victor Martínez’s Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida (1996), and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1996) in order to show how each text “argue[s] for a border and diasporic thinking as a necessary epistemology on which diversalist knowledge can be articulated in a transmodernist world governed by global capitalism and new forms of coloniality” (30). Saldívar’s treatment of subaltern identities and the politics of discourse in this chapter pave the way for his comparative study of Julio Ramos’s Divergent Modernities: Culture and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Latin America (2001) and Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Like [End Page 181] Ramos, Saldívar turns in his second chapter to the work of José Martí to explore “migratory, outernationalist” strategies for “confronting modernity and the cultures of U.S. imperialism” (51). The “double subaltern vision” (54) Martí reveals in his body of writings guides his “profound critique of the [Western] hemisphere’s condensation of spaces and borders produced by the War of 1898’s intense re-worlding of the Caribbean, the Américas, and the Pacific” (55).

In the chapters that follow, Saldívar continues his exploration into productions of subaltern knowledge. “Looking Awry at the War of 1898” reads Theodore Roosevelt’s The Rough Riders (1899) against Miguel Barnet’s and Esteban Montejo’s novela testimonial Biografía de un cimarrón (1966) to locate a “subalternist angle” for viewing “the War of 1898 in its distinct form in contrast to the dominant and metropolitan Anglocentric view” (59). In his discussion of Chicano author John Rechy and performer Robert López—El Vez, the Mexican Elvis—Saldívar charts the creation of minoritized knowledges that challenge, “from below, the homogeneity and presumed boundedness of the U.S. public sphere” (xxiii), while his reading of Lani Guinier’s and Gerald Torres’s formulation of political race in The Miner’s Canary (2002) traces the authors’ attempts to lay bare the unspeakable violence suffered by subaltern victims of global capitalism and coloniality (119). In the final chapters of Trans-Americanity, Saldívar turns...


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